"Memphis was kick-ass," says Julia Hungerford, the drummer for local sultans of misplaced surf rock, The Cheat.
It was October, Friday the 13th. "Everyone was drunk and rowdy," says muscleman/guitarist Fletcher Stewart, a guy who's not shy about going shirtless for a photo op in the brisk November air. "A guy lost his grill," Stewart goes on. "His grill got George Formaned."
In the corner, some toasted kid was snorting his own loogie, a weird attempt to impress the ladies. It failed, but the kid was nothing if not persistent. And he kept on snorting. The Cheat, impressed by the fetid offering, gave him a free T-shirt.
"He was trying to get more free stuff out of it," says Harold Heffner (guitar, keys and vox). That same night, in a whiskey-soaked agreement, Ian Lawrence (bass and keys), bought a bass guitar for $20 bucks off of some snot-nose band.
"Rocktober," Lawrence says. "Don't quote me on that. It's like something you'd see on one of those cheesy mail-order guitar companies. ‘Rocktober savings!'"
You'll hear similar stories about most cities The Cheat visited that week. Lexington ruled. Louisville was cool. Same for Anytown, U.S.A. When this quartet is on stage, crowds are usually rowdy. You already know this if you were at Host Clothing in the Old City on Nov. 3, when a beery crowd turned Bedlam. Beer foam flew threw the air. Stewart's guitar got drenched. Overhead, a platter of carrots, cauliflower and other freshly cut vegetables spiraled off a giant plastic saucer, thrown like a Frisbee.
"Everything is more better," Stewart says. "The lyrics aren't just love-song shit anymore."
"We all get along better," Hungerford says, "and that makes it easier. We get along more better."
"More better again!" Stewart goes on. "I can see the headline now, 'The Cheat are more better—dot, dot, dot—again.'" He pauses, in intense contemplation, then asks: "How come the Metro Pulse never runs transcripted interviews? You'd win the Pulitzer. Think of how much of a better read it would be if it was just a straight-up transcript, instead of The Cheat are a band from Knoxville, Tennessee, who used to be called The Cuts."
We're sharing some beers, not really talking music anymore. Just killing time, basically. I've learned that their sound has, in fact, matured since the band's early days back in 2003. There's a new album coming out, sometime before their next tour in March. They'll be playing with the Black Lips and Cheap Time this Friday, both crazy bands that'll potentially tear the Grotto apart. So, let's talk. What's it like being on tour?
"It's basically living homeless," Hungerford says.
"You realize how much the same everywhere is," Lawrence adds.
"You can go places," comes Heffner, "and see weird parallels of your friends."
And, if you're really lucky, Lawrence will try to piss in a water bottle. "I don't understand why this is such an unnatural thing," Lawrence says. Hungerford rejoins: "There's gonna be dribble!"
"I'm not peeing on you for sexual fulfillment," Lawrence continues. "I mean, what's the trouble?"
Best interview yet, going straight into the gutter where we're all more comfortable. There's still some lingering talk about the tour in March, which is going to be huge, if things go according to plan. On the other side of the room Stewart and Heffner are playing with a plastic orca and a couple of Mexican wrestling masks.
"I already got four shows booked," Hungerford says, "and this is for March. It's only November…. Up the West coast, play a few shows, 'cause I think we can get all the way to San Fran."
"I think we can get to Seattle, too," Lawrence adds. "Fuck it."
Then Stewart jumps in, going off on a tangent: "We recorded on the machine that ‘Back in Black' was recorded on." Oh yeah? Really? "Then the idiot at the fucking soundboard erased it," Lawrence says.
But that doesn't matter, because there's still a bright light, a reason The Cheat is so eager to get back on the road and head west. In L.A. there's another group called The Cheat. "We're going to L.A. specifically to beat them up," Lawrence confesses. "You can quote me on that—" It's all theater:
Stewart: "To take what's rightfully ours."
Heffner: "Have you been threatening them online yet?"
Hungerford: "No, we need to get on that."
Heffner: "If they didn't suck so bad, there wouldn't be a problem."
Hungerford: "If it was our bad, and we were like, ‘Hey, we didn't know you guys were that cool,' then we might be dignified and back down."
Lawrence: "Actually, fuck dignity. You can quote me on that."